Thunderhead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Having been a fan of the Pendergast books by Preston and Child, I decided it was high time to start reading the other works they’ve produced as a writing duo.
“Thunderhead” seemed a good choice, because it introduces archaeologist Nora Kelly, who features prominently in several of the Pendergast novels. Getting more background information on her was appealing to me, because Nora has always been a strong character and added great depth to the novels in which she’s appeared; however, a part of me was curious to see if I would like her as much in a standalone story.
The premise of Thunderhead is this: Archaeologist Nora Kelly is at a crossroads in her career, dissatisfied with her current projects and unsure of how to change that. But when a violent encounter in her childhood home leaves in possession of a letter written by her vanished father, her life suddenly changes.
In the 16-year-old letter, her father claims to have discovered Quivira, the lost city of the Anasazi Indians which is fabled to been a treasure trove of gold. Quickly mounting an expedition and backed by the Institute’s credibility and funding, her team travels deep into the remote desert and harsh canyons.
When the team finally reaches their destination, they discover an archaeological dream which quickly morphs into a horrific nightmare.
Preston and Child have a gift for solidly grounding their fiction stories in fact, which comes from extensive research. “Thunderhead” is no different, and I think it’s because they sprinkle fact within fiction that their stories are highly believable. It’s easily apparent that much time was spent researching Plains Indian culture. Without ever falling into Native stereotypes, they create a culture that could have easily inhabited the Southwest so many years ago. Weaving in accounts of early Spanish explorers helped strengthen that back story.
By the time Nora and her team reach Quivira, the reader already has the mythos of the Anasazi firmly embedded in their minds. As the story progresses and the horror of what truly occurred at the fabled city emerge, it easily meshes with the established history.
Fast-paced action scenes, believable tensions between strong-willed personalities and the ominous backdrop of the harsh Southwest all combine to form a spellbinding tale. When it finally came to a conclusion, I was pleased to discover I liked Nora Kelly even more than when I began the novel.
Readers should note that there are several particularly gruesome deaths throughout the novel, but they are never gratuitous and always serve to further the plot.